Branding SharePoint Sites, how to get started

Many of us out there have encountered it before; How do I make SharePoint look the way I want it to, without destroying any of the functionality that comes out of the box? In my current project, we face the same challenges that leave us sometimes puzzled on why Microsoft has chosen certain design approaches.

One of those things is the use of table style design, especially in the WebPartZone and WebPartChrome controls. It really frustrates designing based on DIV’s, which is the standard nowadays.

The second thing is the complete overload on CSS that SharePoint applies to pages to handle the styling of the various elements. In one way, this allows for very detailed control over UI elements, but in the other hand makes it almost impossible to apply a generic style across all pages and controls.

Fortunately, I was not the only one facing this issue. So here are some of the links I found very useful when starting to design Intranet en Internet web sites based on SharePoint 2010.

To start off, Andrew Connell and Randy Drisgill provided a quite extensive article on how to approach Branding with SharePoint 2010. This article is excellent and will provide you a flying start in any design and helps to understand the various elements contained in a SharePoint master page and the styles that are applied to them.

When web designers start developing their front-end design their first course of action is to reset all the css styles that are applied by default. Doing that on SharePoint will, well, confuse SharePoint to say it mildly. Kyle Schaeffer has developed a reset css specific for SharePoint 2010 that gives front-end designers a head start in applying their custom css on SharePoint.

CSS is basically the keyword in styling SharePoint. Not by introducing your own classes, but understanding the 200+ classes Microsoft introduced themselves and which does what. One of the absolute guru’s on this front is Heather Solomon that also provided a complete reference to all the styles that are applied to certain UI elements and what they said. A must read for any developer that needs to style SharePoint. Unfortunately, only for SharePoint 2007 now, but I am sure she will also provide one for SharePoint 2010.

Master pages and Page Layout form the basics on any SharePoint site and customizing can be challenging. Andrew and Randy provide a good starter.master that has all the essential elements in place and also contains good comments on which section does what. Couple of things I encountered that are crucial:

  • Do not remove the s4-workspace, s4-bodyContainer and MSO_ContentDIV divs.
    Doing so will really mess up your user experience with SharePoint, especially when entering the edit modes.
  • When going for a fixed width site, which is quite common these days, apply the s4-nosetwidth class to your workspace div. This will instruct the javascript behind the scenes not to touch the widths set in the CSS definitions.
  • Use the s4-notdlg class for any element you do not want to show in the modal dialogs of SharePoint. Failing to do so will show your beautiful header in full power within small dialog boxes.
  • Accept that SharePoint controls output their HTML in a certain way. Yes, some use tables to structure it, deal with it. If have played around with ControlAdapters and basically found that they do more damage than they solve. For one thing, because a lot of the html rendering methods of controls are a) internal and b) sealed, there is no way of reaching it, only to completely override it. Thing is, they introduce the object DOM in the HTML that you will then omit…and shake up SharePoint.

In short, styling SharePoint can be a tedious task. With these links, I hope you guys get in the right direction quick. I wished I knew them before finding out the hard way 😉


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